I spent a whole week in my site and lived to tell about it! I really love San Vicente. It’s beautiful, it’s on the beach, it’s tranquilo, and it’s on the BEACH.
This is the view from my bedroom window:
I was worried about the heat and bugs because of the whole being on the equator thing, but the breeze from the ocean takes care of both of those problems.
My host family is really sweet and I love them. They baked me a welcome cake and fed me excessively. I spent every night I was there sitting on the parents’ bed with the whole fam watching brazilian telenovelas and “ecuador tiene talento” –> ecuador’s got talent. My host mom calls me “mija” (my daughter) and has called me ~3 times a day since I left San Vicente to check up on me.
My house doesn’t have running water or internet, but it is comfortable and my room is really big. I forgot to take pictures of the house because I was too busy taking a million pictures of the beach. It’s right in the town center and is the second story of a pharmacy or maybe a shoe store. I don’t remember. The office I’ll be working in has internet so I’ll be able to access it when I need to, and I’m already pretty much an expert at bucket baths after this week so the no running water thing isn’t a big deal.
The most stressful part of site visit was the horribly difficult time I had communicating with people in my town. I was feeling pretty confident about my spanish after living with my host family in Tumbaco for 2 months, but I had no idea how different the coast accent was from the Quito accent. They speak a million times faster on the coast and replace all of their s’s with h’s AND drop the second half of pretty much every word. I couldn’t understand a word anyone said. I felt like a weird deaf alien baby because everyone had to speak to me really loudly, really slowly, and repeat themselves like 8 times before I could get the general idea of what they were saying. A lot of times I would just answer questions with what seemed to be the right answer based on body language and contextual clues, and then a while later after translating every word in my head slowly and methodically I would understand what they had asked me. This is how I accidentally told my family that I have a PhD, and that I have never eaten french fries before. Whoops. Who knows what other strange lies I told them about myself that I never even realized.
The other tough thing about my site is the food. Specifically the fact that my family (slash no one in the town) seems to eat fruits or vegetables. I honestly don’t think I saw one vegetable the entire time I was there. My diet consisted almost entirely of rice, plantains, and this strange squeeky white cheese that does not melt. My host dad has been having health problems because he is overweight, and my host mom is trying to get him to eat more healthily and exercise. This is an actual conversation that took place at the dinner table:
host mom: we are going to start eating more salad to help you lose weight
host dad: what is salad?
host mom: lettuce
Then she served him a plate of shredded iceberg lettuce. This made my heart hurt, but what better place to start my nutrition education work than with my host family!?? I am determined to show them the magical world of salad and I will force them all to love vegetables and we will all eat leafy greens together and it will be amazing. We also ate a lot of ceviche while I was there, and it was by far the best thing I have eaten in this country. If I can get away with eating nothing but ceviche and vegetables for the next 2 years, I’ll be a happy camper.
Other highlights of site visit included spending an entire day on my host dad’s shrimp farm learning about the shrimp harvesting process and eating a ton of freshly caught (cooked) shrimp, exploring the many beaches near my town, and playing many hours of basketball with my 13 year old host brother(slash new best friend) and the neighbor kids. I was also able to spend some time with some of the other volunteers who live in Bahia, a bigger town about 10 minutes from San Vicente. There are 4 in total who live there, and they will be crucial to helping me maintain my sanity…especially when I need a break from speaking spanish.
I came away from site visit feeling excited, overwhelmed, anxious, under-qualified, intimidated, and a lot of other adjectives that I’m not sure how to categorize. I love my site and the people in it, but it’s going to be hard to find my place and figure out my role within my organization. I’ll be working for the municipal government of the canton of San Vicente, which comprises the city of San Vicente and over 40 rural communities surrounding it. The specific office within the municipality that I’m assigned to- the office of community development – provides social programs to disadvantaged people in the canton, like providing food and housing to people with disabilities and offering health services to people who can’t afford them. I’ll also be providing support to other offices within the municipality, specifically the women’s office and the child and family services office. There is a lot of poverty in my area and I can see that there is a huge need for health education and promotion, but my organization has never worked with Peace Corps before and I think it will be up to me to establish my role and find a place for myself. I’m intimidated and I have no idea where I’m going to start when I move there for real in two weeks, but I’m going to do my best to follow writer/translator Daoud Hari’s advice:
“What can one person do? You make friends, of course, and do what you can.”
I’ll swear in as a Peace Corps Volunteer exactly 2 weeks from today (assuming I do well on my 12 thousand exams and presentations between now and the 31st). Training has been exhausting, overwhelming, and gratifying (sometimes), and I have no idea whether I’m prepared to face the challenges I have in store in my site. Only time will tell!
“Everything is OK. If everything is not OK, try checking your perception of objective reality.”